Lots of overlap, few differences in newly released back-to-school plans of Manitoba divisions

By | August 17, 2020

A series of Manitoba school divisions released their back-to-school plans Monday, each one largely resembling the next, barring a few details.

From being noncommittal on provincial exams, to how integrated technology will be in blended learning scenarios, a few differences have emerged.

Like other divisions, the Winnipeg School Division is recommending staff and students in grades 5-12 wear masks. It’s also urging parents to ensure their children make COVID-19 symptom screening part of their routine every morning before heading to class.

But unlike other divisions, Winnipeg’s largest appears to go one further. Its schools will screen all staff and students a second time when they arrive at school, just to be safe.

“This is our most important defence against transmission of COVID-19,” the WSD plan states, adding trained staff will conduct the screenings.

Busing limited

Parents across divisions are encouraged to drop off their kids because busing will be limited, at least until snow falls.

Only students with exceptional needs and those from the Headingley and Brooklands areas will be eligible to bus in the beginning of September in the St. James-Assiniboia Division. Capacity is expected to increase in October.

Buses will be back in operation come fall but be limited, depending on the division. Parents are still being asked to take their kids to school if possible. (Jonathan Dupaul/CBC)

The Hanover School Division is asking families typically eligible for bus pickup to consider driving their kids, but families will all get an email from the division soon asking for confirmation of transportation plans. From there, administrators will determine who gets to ride to and from school.

The majority of Pembina Trails School Division students who are usually eligible for the bus won’t be permitted to take it early on. Only students attending the Manitoba Institute of Trades and Technology and Pembina Trails Early College will be allowed to bus when classes resume. Students with additional needs and their siblings, and those attending child-care centres, will also be bused.

“Due to the current spacing requirements and the length of time it would take to get all students to school safely, we must drastically reduce ridership,” reads the Pembina Trails back to school plan.

Students with disabilities will be prioritized for in-class learning in the event COVID-19 worsens and Manitoba schools have to mostly revert to a remote-learning model again. (wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)

The Winnipeg School Division is prioritizing space on buses for students with exceptional needs or disabilities as well.

Other students will be able to bus, though it will vary depending on the school or cohort.

Cohorts a challenge

Manitoba Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen has said cohorting — grouping the same students together throughout the day and week — is likely to work better in younger and middle years, but might not be realistic in some high schools. Electives, school sizes and other factors make for highly mobile environments in senior years.

According to Hanover, cohorting won’t work in Niverville High School, Steinbach Regional Secondary School, Landmark Collegiate or Green Valley School.

Ecole Constable Edward Finney school in Seven Oaks School Division had these floor markers in place in late-May, before students came back briefly ahead of summer break. Division plans suggest schools across the province will be getting more signage like this. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The details vary somewhat between schools, but generally students will be split into two groups across grades 9-12. At Green Valley, half the students will be in the classroom on Monday and Wednesday, the other half will get in-person instruction Tuesday and Thursday, and all will learn remotely on Fridays.

Grade 12 provincial exams are scheduled to occur as normal in Hanover high schools. St. James-Assiniboia says it won’t commit to holding those tests until evaluating Manitoba’s COVID-19 outlook at the end of September.

Cafeterias mostly closed

Many high-school cafeterias won’t be serving food, but not all.

St. John’s and Gordon Bell cafeterias will remain open in the Winnipeg School Division, while Elmwood, Tec Voc and RB Russell will serve pre-packaged lunches to go.

Some divisions are going to try to increase safety by limiting movements of students, but upping the movement of some teachers.

Educators in River East-Transcona will go from classroom to classroom when possible, rather than students.

Specialist teachers in Hanover will do this as well to minimize how much everyone is getting around in schools.

Virtual learning

In northwest Winnipeg, high school students will still be plugged into their classroom, even if they aren’t in the same building.

Seven Oaks School Division will equip each classroom with a camera so teachers can communicate simultaneously with their students, wherever they are.

Pembina Trails is also installing cameras, but it’s leaving it up to teachers to decide whether they are used during instruction.

The Winnipeg School Division won’t require teachers to simultaneously live-stream in-class lessons for those learning remotely during an at-home day.

Students helped each other to learn the coding program to play cooperative games or just to share cool tricks that they had figured out — an example of the community building described by the program director Carron McCabe. (Brittany Spencer/CBC)

Those students will work on something else on those days.

Seven Oaks will create a designated study hall in each high school to accommodate teenagers who’d prefer to go to school on their off days, said superintendent Brian O’Leary.

“Some students don’t have great study spaces at home, some students don’t have connectivity, some students would just like to come to school every day,” he said.

To help with home learning, Seven Oaks will lend tablets and assist with internet connectivity, when required.

River East-Transcona is pushing a “bring your own device” approach to in-classroom use of personal electronics. BYOD, which will be in place for all, is meant to limit the use of shared resources, among other perceived benefits.

Choir and band

Hanover students will still be taught regularly scheduled music, French, and physical education classes, with appropriate measures in place. The division also says non-medical masks can be removed during outdoor recess “to provide a mask-free break.”

Early years and middle school choir and band are paused for September in the St. James Assiniboia School Division.

St. James Assiniboia says the pause in some courses is being done just at the beginning in an “abundance of caution,” and administrators are hopeful the full complement of in-person instruction can continue soon.

Those same programs will be allowed in Seven Oaks and Winnipeg school divisions, assuming public health guidelines are met, and reduced group sizes may be considered. WSD recommends class sizes no larger than 15 for grades 7-12.

And students should consider packing light: many schools won’t offer locker space this September.

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